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5 Things You Didn't Know About Kimberly-Clark Corporation

By Demitri Kalogeropoulos - May 31, 2017 at 5:01PM

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Here are a few key facts investors should know about this consumer goods giant.

It's one of the biggest consumer goods companies on the market, with dozens of global brands including Huggies diapers, Kleenex tissues, and Cottonelle toilet paper. But while you may be familiar with most of Kimberly-Clark's (KMB 0.92%) hit franchises, read on for a few key operating and financial facts you might not know about this business.

Long sales slump

Kimberly-Clark's annual revenue has slipped in each of the last two fiscal years after peaking at just under $20 billion in 2014. The decline is entirely thanks to foreign exchange rate shifts, though. Last year's 2% gain, for example, was the result of a slight uptick in organic growth that was swamped by a 4% hit from currency moves. 

Kleenex tissues being used around the house.

Image source: Kimberly-Clark.

Stripping out the effects of exchange-rate moves still leaves a business facing major industry challenges. Kimberly-Clark's organic growth slowed to a 2% pace in 2016 from 5% in the prior year. The company expects 2017 to mark a second straight year of deceleration, too.

Heavy reliance on rich markets

Kimberly-Clark generates just over half of its sales -- and 70% of profits -- from the U.S. market. Peer Procter & Gamble (PG 0.95%), whose blockbuster Pampers brand battles against Kimberly-Clark's Huggies franchise, counts just 44% of its business from the U.S.

The heavy reliance on this market has extracted a price on the business over the last few years. Since that industry segment has slowed to near zero growth, Kimberly-Clark has seen its organic growth pace fall as peers rebound or hold steady. P&G is on track to speed up its expansion pace to between 2% and 3% this year, from 1% in 2016, and Unilever is growing at a hefty 4% pace.

Improving profitability

The company generated a record high $2.2 billion of profit last year despite the sinking sales base. Cost cuts played a key role in this happy result as Kimberly-Clark sliced $435 million from its expense infrastructure.

The trend continued into 2017, with $110 million of costs removed in the first quarter. In fact, operating margin has climbed to over 18% of sales, and executives believe they can reach 20% in the next few years, which would put Kimberly-Clark in the same company as industry leaders Procter & Gamble (PG 0.95%) and Clorox (NYSE: CLX).

KMB Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

KMB Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts.

Falling prices

Kimberly-Clark aims to generate growth that's driven by increasing sales volumes but also includes a healthy dose of rising prices. Yet prices fell by more than a full percentage point in the most recent quarter. The decline was due to spiking competition in the U.S. market, management explained, where organic sales dove by 3%.

Executives said its market segments worsened to a 0.5% growth pace from 1.5% last year. That decline is the main reason the company believes it will slightly underperform last year's 2% organic growth in 2017.

Rich dividend history

The company has boosted its dividend in each of the last 44 years, with the most recent annual raises weighing in at 5.4% this year and 4.5% in 2016. That puts the company ahead of P&G, whose latest two dividend increases were 3% and 1%. P&G has a longer track record of raises, though, boasting 60 straight annual hikes.

Thanks to rising profitability and the declining negative impact of foreign currency moves, Kimberly-Clark remains on track to boost adjusted earnings by between 3% and 5% to mark a slight slowdown from the prior year's 5% boost. Improved growth in 2018 and beyond will depend on the health of the industry and on whether the company's latest innovations in its core tissue and diaper brands are a hit with consumers.

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Kimberly-Clark. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Kimberly-Clark Corporation Stock Quote
Kimberly-Clark Corporation
$135.66 (0.92%) $1.24
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